Today the Gospel allows us to enter into that private space with Thomas, the disciples, and Jesus. We are invited into a room that is locked from the inside to become part of the great teaching Jesus has to offer.
Twice Jesus appears to the apostles while they are there. They are in a bit of limbo, unsure perhaps what to do next: They are Afraid. (Our Gospel says they were afraid of “the Jews” but we know that Jesus and all of his disciples were Jewish. The Gospel means the Jewish authorities, the temple police we hear about in the reading from Acts today. They are afraid of being arrested too. They are afraid and hiding out in the upper room where they held the last supper. Jesus essentially comes to bust them out.
This story is most widely remembered for the phrase it has engendered: “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas.”
But I believe this is a special passage that has a lot more to offer us!
Jesus appears to the disciples bringing with him the gift of the Holy Spirit. He breathes on them (which is the gift of Peace - and within it, the power to forgive sins.) Jesus is helping us understand that peace and forgiveness are intrinsically connected. Jesus brings the key to that locked door. He commissions the disciples to go back out into the world. He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus returned the first time. They tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” And He reacts rather defensively to the story they have recounted. Not until I have seen and touched will I believe. He has a very human response. In doing so, Thomas invites us into that locked room… into the scene so that we can be there too. Thomas is our “way in” so to speak.
Thomas means twin. And in some ways he mirrors us through his reaction. Scripture refers to him as, “Thomas also called the twin.” And “Didymus” which also means Twin. He helps us into the story by mirroring us – and the way we may feel:
Why God, did you choose a moment when I was not here to reveal yourself? Why come when I was not here? What about me? I am suffering and in grief too – and you have revealed yourself to my siblings.
How come some of us seem to have peace and faith and belief, but I am struggling?
It is something we can relate to…And our anger and sadness are reactionary. Our instinct is often not full of peace and forgiveness. We feel victimized and may cast blame or mistrust.Thomas’ reaction is relatable. He essentially says, “Well I’ll believe it when I see it.”And Thomas allows us to feel it and say it openly to God, not to hide away, but to engage.
And then Jesus does come - and says “touch my wounds.” He doesn’t come to walk on water, or turn the water into wine, or feed the masses. He comes as wounded and says, “touch me.” I mirror you too. Jesus replies I am with you. I know human suffering. I am with you even in your woundedness. It is intimate and mutual. I am a God who identifies with your suffering and your pain.
Jesus has been abandoned by his friends, tortured and killed, but when he returns the first thing he does is say, “Peace be with you." I forgive - and now I give you the power to forgive. When he comes to the upper room, he has a mission. And it has to do with moving us out into the world with the power of forgiveness in the life of the Spirit…
"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
This is his message from the beginning of the Gospels to the end. Earlier when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he gives them the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He also tells us the second greatest commandment is to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Inherent in that notion is that we love ourselves. Forgiveness is to be extended to others, but we also need to practice forgiving ourselves, to come out of our locked up rooms; places where we hide from ourselves and become strangers to God. We can think the worst of ourselves and we may project the worst onto others. Jesus asks the disciples and us to move out into the world in a new way: A way of forgiveness and peace.
Jesus shows up as resurrected in the fullness of his Spirit. This Bodily resurrection we speak about, has to do with that fullness of Spirit…that we like Jesus will be resurrected in the fullness of our being. As Christians we are working at growing into that fullness of our being through growing in wisdom, forgiveness and as bearers of peace. As the body of Christ we also carry one another’s wounds. When we doubt, or struggle with our belief, another one of us, another part of the body can carry us the rest of the way. We buoy one another. This is Christian Community. They say noone can be a Christian alone.
As our collect today reminds us Jesus brings the new covenant of reconciliation. We are brought together with one another and God through forgiveness - and recognizing the suffering in each of us. It is not an easy task, but it will transform us.
Thomas also contributes a model for us - not simply a model of doubt, but a model of honesty. He doesn’t remain a stranger to God. He says "it like it is." He isn’t afraid to engage in intimate dialogue with God.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those that Believe but have not seen.” This is us, and it is Thomas’s intimate relationship with Jesus who helps us into this space through our own pain and doubt. Thomas in his honesty and love delivers us into the moment.
Jesus reminds us that pain and suffering is something we all share.
Forgiveness is something we can offer…
And Peace depends on it.
Christ is risen!
And Love incarnate will show up in times and places you do not expect.
"Bidden or not bidden, God is present."
God seeks after us, and will show up for us in unexpected places as Jesus did for Peter out fishing, or in our suffering as he did for Mary Magdalene, in our chores like the Samaritan Woman…Maybe even in moments of callousness and cruelty like Paul…
Suddenly we are awakened, by a stranger - Or by someone we know who suddenly turns to us and we realize: they see us in our suffering, or in our efforts - and we remember who we are. We are healed in that moment of connection.
Jesus showed up as a human to affirm just that. Jesus shows us the nature of God is love by becoming one of us. He identifies with us in every way… not in perfection, but in our disordered lives…in order to help us be connected - to teach us how to be connected to one another and God.
Loneliness is the way that so many of us are experiencing the world right now, even with all of the “connecting” technology. We are experiencing the isolation of business, and the overwhelm of information; the pain about war and atrocity in the world; fear and the feeling of being out of control. The antidote is Human touch, a human ear, a human shoulder. That is why God shows up as incarnate: as human.
…And in today’s Gospel, the way the disciples respond to the story of the empty tomb is also very human. In the experience of grief there is loss, confusion, fear, disbelief.
The Gospel describes this reality so clearly. After the experience at the tomb, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and the other women go to the apostles bearing the good news: Jesus is risen! They try to share the experience of the empty tomb and their vision with their brothers.
“But these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them.”
It is not hard for any of us to relate to that. What are the facts? Is Jesus simply gone?
It is a human response, a self-defense actually to walk in a cloud of denial through the thickness of grief. The apostles were terrified. They are hiding out in the upper room where they held the last supper. They are afraid for their lives, and for their future, and they are heartbroken. Grief and fear shuts us down. It may paralyze us. It makes new possibilities seem futile: Like “idle tales.”
It is easy to understand where they were coming from. We are clouded by the stresses and grief in our own lives that make it difficult to be awake to the possibility that “new life springs” that, there may be an order other than the "World Order.” As Jesus said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from here.”
The women share a vision of two men in dazzling clothes who suddenly appear. Visions are an element of prophetic identity. It places the women directly in the prophetic tradition; a tradition conveying a message between God and people. It is communal, which makes it that much more difficult to deny. A group of important
women-leaders among the disciples, tell us what they saw and heard. They remember Jesus’ words: the message God has been sending to the people through Jesus.
It is not always easy to believe in the resurrection even after we’ve heard the story a thousand times like the apostles. They called him “Lord,” and listened to his teachings. (Even those so close, were too immersed in grief to believe in other possibilities.)
Metaphorically, death is described as being separated from God: Separated from love. We may spend years, maybe even decades separated and wandering. And I don’t mean not attending church. I mean wandering in a cloud of fear and anxiety, death, like the Israelites with Moses. We stop trusting. We walk away from our identity as the beloved of God - and our commission to love one another.
But our story this morning doesn’t end this way.
There is one person who hears the good news. Peter is moved from his frozen state. He comes out of this paralysis of fear… and runs to the tomb. He runs toward the possibility that love is stronger than death: that the Spirit is life giving.
"Bidden or not bidden, God is Present."
It took more than courage for Peter. He had denied Jesus three times. He had walked away. His pain with that knowledge must’ve been excruciating. But Fear is a reaction, Love is an action. Peter moves into action. He runs toward the truth. The truth that God loves and forgives. God Loves and Forgives us. And that is radical.
Jesus died because of the way he lived, loving and forgiving everyone he encountered in a counter-cultural fervor that was contagious. And this got him killed by the authorities who wanted to maintain control. Jesus undeniably represented a way of life that surrendered to the Spirit of Love and not to the powers of control and fear and denial.
His last teaching was to love one another as he loves us. Seek the face of Christ in one another as God seeks us; be receptive to it in all your encounters. Move in the direction of love. And as Jesus asks us, be that one person for someone else. Through him we are raised to that new life where fear and death also do not have the last word.
It is radical and it is counter cultural.
Resurrection is possible because Jesus did not rise once, but is Christ who rises again and again in us and through us in unity, constancy and peace. God raises us in the fullness of our being into the one body of Christ.
Nothing, not even death separates us from the Love of God.
"Everyone will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another…”
Our outline of faith (traditionally called the Catechism) says that Jesus reveals to us that the nature of God is Love.
Tonight we reenact and remember Jesus’ last night before he is arrested. And we do this at every Eucharist, celebrating the memorial of our redemption: Remembering. But the Gospel of John is unique. It gives us another part to this story.
It doesn’t include Jesus’ command to “remember him through the bread and wine.” Instead this Gospel’s focus of the last supper is about service and love. Jesus exhibits this in relationship all through his ministry:
Including, Inviting, Touching, Feeding, Healing,… “I see you, You see me.”
This new commandment that Christ gives us “to love one another as he love us” also does show up in the Great Thanksgiving through other words of prayer, such as 'Father send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you” Or “Grant us strength and courage to love you with gladness and singleness of heart… This is Jesus’ last formal teaching to the disciples.
In our passage today, the disciples have just completed the last supper. It says:
He “knew.” He knew that his hour had come. This form of “know” meaning to remember, appreciate. It is a depth of interior knowledge. He had integrated what was to be.
Jesus removes his outer garment. And he ties a towel around himself. The Greek word that is used is “girded.” He girded himself with the towel. He wrapped it around himself. What an intimate and vulnerable gesture….And yet, at the same time so strong. This image really strikes to the core of Jesus. In the face of arrest and crucifixion, Jesus doesn’t just fear or imagine what he might suffer. He knows, and rather than run, he turns to his friends. He removes his outer garment.
We often associate gird with “gird your loins.” It is actually a way for managing your clothes in preparation for battle. It is still a phrase we use for taking protective measures. Jesus girds himself in preparation for this terrifying battle by disrobing, and giving his disciples a simple but very explicit example of how to love and serve one another: How to be in the world. He girds himself with the love of his friends. He empties himself in service. That becomes his shield, his outer garment.
Jesus has one last teaching. He says "you call me Lord and Teacher. So I have set an example for you.” His is the way of peace. He is the Prince of Peace and his shield is Love. Do this too in the memory of him. And wear it like a breastplate.
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
We have just read the passion. We walked through the unjust path of Jesus’ experience in his last days in Jerusalem. It is painful to hear and read aloud.
The story may feel premature for those of us immersed in Church. Today is Palm Sunday. We read from Luke: “As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice.”
I want to back up to the beginning of our day. I want to focus on today because it has so much to do with the hope we feel in Christ even entering into Holy Week:
Palm Sunday which is a joyful day. We reenact with our palms and procession a great day of joy for the disciples. The Gospel of Luke has an emphasis on Joy in the presence of Jesus beginning with the birth narratives. And today a multitude of disciples are praising God joyfully with a loud voice.
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!
Imagine a multitude of disciples. We often think of the twelve when we hear “disciples” rather than multitudes. Jesus has been gathering followers through his healing ministry all throughout the land. How many of the 5000 do you suppose showed up on Palm Sunday? How many Palm Sundays have there been over the centuries? …disciples showing up to wave palms…leading up to us today…
Many churches lead processions on this day. We are happy to be shouting that Jesus is King, but we are doing this with knowledge of the resurrection. What were the people on that day really feeling, seeing and praying about? What was this joy that had become so contagious that multitudes were showing up in Jerusalem to sing and lay down coats and palms in a procession for a man riding on a colt?
This short passage is a snap shot: a picture that speaks a thousand words. Jesus riding on a colt, as a huge gathering of disciples role out the "red carpet" (so to speak) for his "triumphant entry."
It is Jerusalem at Passover. The city is packed for the holiday with pilgrims. The city swelled to 5x its population with pilgrims traveling from all around. There are camps everywhere. What a sight.
At Passover, the crowds are accustomed to a procession, a grand Roman military parade: a presence that reinforces the region's occupation by Rome. The people paid taxes to the Romans, part of why the tax collectors were so hated: Taxation without representation.
Now: The appointed governor, Pontius Pilate, who does not actually live in Jerusalem is riding into the city at the head of an imperial calvary and parade of soldiers…While Jesus on the other side of town is arriving in a different kind of parade.
In tremendous contrast to the highly trained military horses, Jesus is riding on a colt: a colt that has never been ridden. He told a couple of his disciples: “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden.”
In other Gospels Jesus is said to have ridden a young donkey. And we have seen pictures since we were children of Jesus riding the “humble” donkey. But over the past few years I’ve had experience with a colt who has never been ridden… and it got me to thinking about this story in a new light - and who Jesus is and what he is bringing.
About four years ago my parents got a horse who arrived pregnant (unbeknownst to them). And for the past four years they’ve been working with this little filly. Have you ever been with a colt that has never been ridden? They are wild and spirited. I can tell you she is wild and spirited. They are not easy to ride even when they are small.
Here is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on this lively colt, on this breath of new life, unbridled energy and Spirit!
From last week’s readings, remember:
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Jesus is riding on the Holy Spirit who will not be tamed.
He has proven it again and again in the way that he navigates the world, heals people, invites people…that is why the multitudes gather with joyous singing!
As Jesus read from Isaiah earlier in the Gospel:
“The Spirit is upon me, ’because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The significance for the people is that the Messiah "King of Heaven" is here and the Kingdom of God is more powerful than these unjust Kingdoms of this World. Joy is in the air.
This joy is the gift of the Spirit. This gift of the Spirit is what Jesus gives to the disciples and to us as our advocate and guide. And in that, we should recognize that joy is part of wisdom. We are given this gift of the Spirit to help us grow and to help us walk through our own dark days as we look toward the resurrection - and our "joy complete.”
Joy is what sustains us through the dark days of Holy Week and our own dark days.
The Passion Story that we hear takes us through an archetypal trip of our own story too. We struggle as Jesus did. He (as the perfect human) shows us ourselves too. We are faced with unbearable obstacles, pains that we feel we may not be able to endure. We are tested by those who don’t understand us, we face injustice, sometimes oppression.
At some point in our life we experience the ultimate sense that we can’t find salvation on our own. We do not have all of the answers or strength to live out this human life with utter control - and we turn to a greater power: The power of the Spirit to help us make something new, to be reborn.
In spirited community we gather to work through this process - and to help one another move through it too. Just as Jesus ultimately humbled himself, we humble ourselves for the sake of others.
Ultimately there is a greater love that forgives: joy complete: Not happiness or control over the outcome we hope for. Instead we find wisdom: A saving joy…The type of joy that is serene at times and shouting praise at others because it is a path we walk now with the Spirit as companion. When we are struggling to love those around us - we know we are bound in a greater Love that completes the part of us that is still struggling to meet that cause.
The Spirit Gives strength and wisdom: the giver of life in an unending flow. Just being part of the flow in whatever way that you can muster in any given moment - gives to that greater flow of love which is renewing. New life springs. Remember: Earlier in this Gospel Jesus springs up, literally jumps for joy when his disciples return to him having healed others. That is what the multitudes were celebrating.
Even so, Jesus knows what he is facing as he turns to Jerusalem. And at the last supper he gives his disciples his Spirit … to give the gift of joy and healing to others… to us and for us…
That is why we continue to be here celebrating on Palm Sunday…Jesus ridding on a colt bringing new life and an unbridled Spirit to sustain us all even in the darkness of the crucifixion - and in our own dark days.
And when they took him away, the betrayal of humanity was so great…Jesus "the meek King” (as he is called) humbled himself for the sake of all: Our redeemer who delivers us from our distress. He is the one who sets us free from the captivity of others as well as the captivity of our private selves.He claims us for his kingdom; he awakens us (gives sight to the blind). He offers us a new vision for a Kingdom of Peace.
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the Highest!
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? - Isaiah
Mary anoints Jesus with her hair.
This is a very important story for me. In 2010 I did my Masters Thesis on Mary Magdalene which included a brief study of the other Mary’s in the Gospels. This story offers us something new from Jesus. Jesus’ response to Mary is quite unique and important. And variations of it are found in all four gospels: Mary pours out an expensive bottle of perfume made of nard on Jesus (either on his feet or head). In every story it is received by shock and disapproval by others in the house.
This is an anointing. It is what Kings’ receive.
Judas neither recognized Mary’s authority nor Jesus’ identity when he suggests this act is a waste rather than recognizing it for what it is: an anointing.
The way the Gospel of John is written is with an emphasis on WHO Jesus is: The word Messiah means “anointed one” and comes from the Hebrew word “anointed.” Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, also meaning “anointed one.”
Mary anoints Jesus with burial nard. Jesus says "she bought this for me," or other interpretations read, "she has been saving it for me,” or “she has kept this for me.”
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Mary anoints Jesus both as King and for his death. She recognizes who he is and what is to come. As a prisoner of state - to die a death by crucifixion would deny him a proper burial. Mary understands this and really knows what Jesus is about to do - and who Jesus is.
Death is in the air.
This story directly follows the resurrecting of Lazarus who now also reclines with them at the table…
"But the perfume that permeates the house and Lazarus’ presence point us to a new reality: Jesus’ power over death." (1)
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Mary understands his teaching in a way that many of the disciples still do not. Her act is not a simple act of selflessness as many theologians have written. Nor is it wasteful as Judas postured.
This act is brazen. It is bold and it is shameless, even while it involves tears of sorrow. It is authoritative in stating that Jesus is King… of a Kingdom of peace - a new way to be in the world …In direct opposition to the “powers that be” and the kingdoms that exist.
And what does Jesus do? Jesus defends her and this act.
There are three other anointings of Jesus in the Gospels. Two are listed as having been from Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus) and two by an unnamed woman. Mary Magdalene has been associated with this unnamed woman throughout history. Jesus defends this woman “Mary” in a way that he doesn’t defend any other of his companions in all of the Gospels.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
What is quite unique is that, in each of these anointing scenes - this woman’s action becomes the focal point of the story rather than Jesus’ actions. And in its counterpart in Matthew and Mark’s versions, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached in all the world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
The ultimate point is that Mary recognizes God in her presence.
...And that is the hardest thing for any of us to do. Especially in the midst of chaos, fear and the presence of death…it is difficult for us to see God in our midst. Lent and these readings ask us to focus on God and to consider letting go of mortal things; “Things of the Flesh” as Paul says… And to focus on the eternal, the spirit. We often give things up for Lent; letting go of things, not so much to discipline ourselves, but as a gauge to help us recognize what is real, and true and important…to see what gets in our way of loving, being present to the people in our lives, or even to ourselves. We have so many responsibilities. It is endless. There never seems to be enough time. It is difficult to see God in one another and to be Christlike to and with one another. It is a struggle.
Lent allows us that time to lament it, to claim that struggle boldly and without shame, that we are only human and we are walking on the path and working to find one another and God on that path.
Paul speaks to the community at Philipi facing opposition and the fear of death. He offers himself as a model for one who is striving for faith.
No one has to claim we already have it. It is our cross in this life… to work toward love and faith and trust in the face of all of our human fears. Even Paul says, “Not that I have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…
…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
…Who makes all things new.
Like Paul in his fear - and in our sorrow, with our tears like Mary, we can still brazenly say “Jesus has made us his own.” As we await the coming of Easter in our own lives, we press on with our own prayer in our own striving forward.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?